Featured Image is New York, by George Bellows.
New York’s cardinal virtue is hustle. It is also its chief vice.
New Yorkers’ hustle seems a poor fit for Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean; the greatness and the excess of it seem too tightly intertwined. Quite possibly they are aspects of the very same thing. It seems instead more at home in a tragic view of human nature, which both precedes Aristotle and comes later in the form of Christian fallenness. New Yorkers hustle to get where they are going so they can work hard on whatever work they are called to do.
The deli where I occasionally get my breakfast is most alive when the line is most backed up. The unyielding energy and efficiency of the two men who handle orders for breakfast sandwiches and wraps is quite a sight to behold. What impresses me the most, as someone with an unreliable memory, is their mental queue—they take an additional order while still working on two or three ahead of that one. Each order is broken out into specific tasks, which they work on concurrently, usually concluding two at right around the same time.
In the two years or so that I have been going there, they have never made a mistake, and they always remember who it was that ordered each item. I’m sure they make mistakes—I’m not saying that they are perfect, superhuman breakfast sandwiches factories, though you might forgive me for beginning to suspect as much.
If there is a virtuous hustle, without vice, it is the ordinary, every day hustle that is embodied behind that counter, day after day. No stockbroker, or programmer, or statesman, could possibly outmatch the extraordinary wonder of such ordinary virtue.
It almost makes one forgive the hustle of fellow New Yorkers who shove you aside on the street or in the subway, or run you over in their cars.